Start Up No.1199: Twitter pauses account cull, bad bags for life, TikTok helping repression, Toshiba’s cancer blood drop test, and more

A reconstruction of Game 3 of the match between Lee Sedol and AlphaGo. (Go players will recognise it’s not exactly accurate.) Lee has now quit. CC-licensed photo by Alvin Trusty on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Try the turkey. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Go master Lee Sedol says he quits unable to win over AI Go players • Yonhap News Agency



South Korean Go master Lee Se-dol, who retired from professional Go competition last week after gaining worldwide fame in 2016 as the only human to defeat the artificial intelligence (AI) Go player AlphaGo, said his retirement was primarily motivated by the invincibility of AI Go programs.

“With the debut of AI in Go games, I’ve realized that I’m not at the top even if I become the number one through frantic efforts,” said Lee.

“Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated,” he said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul on Monday.

AlphaGo, built by Google’s DeepMind Technologies, won four of its five matches against Lee in March 2016, but Lee’s sole win in Game 4 remains the only time a human has beaten the AI player.
Reflecting on the historic Game 4 on March 13, 2016, Lee attributed his win to a bug in the AlphaGo program.

In the game, Lee’s unexpected move at white 78 developed a white wedge between blacks at the center. The apparently embarrassed AlphaGo responded poorly on move 79, suddenly turning the game in Lee’s favor. AlphaGo then declared its surrender by displaying a “resign” message on the computer screen.
Lee’s white 78 is still praised as a “brilliant, divine” move that offered a ray of hope to humans frustrated by AIs.

But Lee said he managed to win Game 4 due to AlphaGo’s buggy response to his “tricky” moves. “My white 78 was not a move that should be countered straightforwardly. Such a bug still occurs in Fine Art (a Chinese Go-playing computer program). Fine Art can hardly be defeated even after accepting two stone handicaps against humans. But when it loses, it loses in a strange way. It’s due to a bug,” Lee said.


Watching the film of Lee’s match against AlphaGo, I thought that Lee had completely underestimated what it would be like to play against a computer that was as good as him. Against a human, you get tiny clues about anxiety or confidence after each move. The machine gives you nothing – it’s a brick wall against which you pound your head. That’s psychologically exhausting, and then destructive; you doubt everything, because you’re getting no feedback.

A lot of people are going to get that feeling as more machines begin to take over human jobs.
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Twitter account deletions on ‘pause’ after outcry • BBC News

Dave Lee:


Twitter has said it will “pause” plans to disable inactive accounts following user backlash, a day after announcing plans for a huge cull of such accounts.

The social network said it now would not remove accounts until it had a process for “memorialising” dead users on the network. It admitted not having a policy in place was a “miss on our part”.

The firm said it was taking action on inactive accounts due to regulatory concerns. It said once it had a full process in place, account deactivations would occur in the EU first. This was in order, Twitter said, to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

“We apologise for the confusion and will keep you all posted,” the company said in a series of tweets posted on Wednesday.

On Monday Twitter had begun contacting users who hadn’t logged in in the past six months, warning them that they would have their accounts deleted unless they signed in and agreed to the firm’s latest privacy policy.

After reporting from the BBC and others, the company admitted it had not considered the issue of the potential upset that would be caused by the removal of accounts belonging to users who had died.
Writing on TechCrunch, Drew Olanoff, a communications officer at investment firm Scaleworks, said his “heart sank” when he learned of Twitter’s plans, as he often checked in on his father’s account, several years after his death.

“It’s my way, odd or not, of remembering him. Keeping his spirit alive. His tweets are timestamped moments that he shared with the world,” Mr Olanoff wrote. “And Twitter is sweeping them up like crumpled-up paper and junk in a dustbin.”


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‘Bags for life’ making plastic problem worse, say campaigners • The Guardian

Sandra Laville:


Plastic “bags for life” should be banned or raised in price, campaigners say, as new figures reveal a surge in the bags is fuelling a rise in the plastic packaging footprint of leading supermarkets.

Despite high profile promises by the country’s best known supermarkets to tackle the amount of plastic waste they create, their plastic footprint continues to rise, according to research from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace.

In 2018, supermarkets put an estimated 903,000 tonnes of plastic packaging onto the market, an increase of 17,000 tonnes on the 2017 footprint.

The surge is fuelled in part by a huge rise in the sale of “bags for life” by 26% to 1.5bn, or 54 bags per household.

Seven out of the top 10 supermarkets increased their plastic footprint year-on-year. Only Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s achieved reductions, and those were marginal, the report said.

The report is calling for a ban on bags for life, or a rise in price to at least 70p to cut the plastic mountain which is fuelling pollution.


A radio discussion of this had a woman and a man on it. The man said that the problem was that people didn’t love their multi-use bags enough. The woman pointed out that the problem was that the bags for life she’d bought on the previous trip were never in the car when she next went to the shop.

I got the distinct impression that the man had never done the family shop.
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TikTok’s owner is helping China’s campaign of repression in Xinjiang, report finds • The Washington Post



Chinese tech giants including ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, and Huawei Technologies are working closely with the Communist Party to censor and surveil Uighur Muslims in China’s western region of Xinjiang, according to a new report published Thursday.

New evidence of links between the security apparatus and China’s biggest tech companies comes just days after TikTok shut down the account of an American teenager who’d sought to highlight China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang during what began as a makeup video.

After widespread condemnation for censoring an American, TikTok backtracked and reactivated the account of Feroza Aziz, a 17-year-old high school junior in New Jersey.

In a detailed new report, experts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre concluded that many Chinese tech companies “are engaged in deeply unethical behaviour in Xinjiang, where their work directly supports and enables mass human rights abuses.”

…Since last year, ByteDance has flourished. Its TikTok app has been downloaded a billion times — nearly 100 million of which came from the United States — and it has a jaw-dropping valuation of $75bn.

ByteDance has also been working with Xinjiang authorities under a program called “Xinjiang Aid,” whereby Chinese companies open subsidiaries or factories in Xinjiang and employ locals who have been detained in the camps. Its operations are centered on Hotan, an area of Xinjiang considered backward by the Communist Party and where the repression has been among the most severe.


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Cryptocurrency exchanges across China halt services amid crackdown • The Japan Times

Zheping Huang and Olga Kharif:


China’s latest crypto-crackdown is already claiming its first casualties.

At least five local exchanges have halted operations or announced they will no longer serve domestic users this month, after regulators issued a series of warnings and notices as part of a cleanup of digital currency trading.

China is stepping up scrutiny of its massive cryptocurrency industry just weeks after President Xi Jinping ignited a market frenzy by declaring Beijing’s support for the blockchain technology that underpins the sector. But financial watchdogs including the Chinese central bank have in past weeks ordered cryptocurrency firms to shutter and warned investors to be wary of digital currencies, seeking to rein in a market prone to excesses. Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like service, suspended accounts operated by major exchange Binance Holdings Ltd. and blockchain platform Tron.

Taken together, the latest wave of shutdowns and restrictions represent the biggest cleanup of the sector since an initial Chinese clampdown in September 2017. Although exchanges that allow users to buy Bitcoin and Ether with fiat money were banned, trading had remained rampant in China through over-the-counter platforms or services that deal with cryptocurrency assets only.


China squeezes and expands this field like it’s playing an accordion.
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Machine learning has revealed exactly how much of a Shakespeare play was written by someone else • MIT Technology Review


Once the algorithm has learned the style in terms of the most commonly used words and rhythmic patterns, it is able to recognize it in texts it has never seen.

[Petr] Plecháč [at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague] follows exactly this technique. He first trains the algorithm to recognize Shakespeare’s style using other plays written at the same time as Henry VIII. These plays are The Tragedy of Coriolanus, The Tragedy of Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest.

He then trains the algorithm to recognize the work of John Fletcher using plays he wrote at this time—Valentinian, Monsieur Thomas, The Woman’s Prize, and Bonduca.

Finally, he lets the algorithm loose on Henry VIII and asks it to determine the author of the text, using a rolling window technique to scroll through the play.

The results are interesting. They tend to agree with [James] Spedding’s analysis [made in 1850] that Fletcher wrote scenes amounting to almost half the play. However, the algorithm allows a more fine-grained approach that reveals how the authorship sometimes changes not just for new scenes, but also towards the end of previous ones. For example, in Act 3, Scene 2, the model suggests a mixed authorship after line 2081 and finds that Shakespeare takes over completely at line 2200, before the start of Act 4, Scene 1.

Plecháč also trained his model to recognize the work of Philip Massinger but finds little evidence of his involvement. “The participation of Philip Massinger is rather unlikely,” he concludes.

That’s interesting work that shows how linguists and literary analysts are using machine learning to better understand our literary past.


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Global smartphone demand was weak in third quarter of 2019 • Gartner


Global sales of smartphones to end users continued to decline in the third quarter of 2019, contracting by 0.4% compared with the third quarter of 2018, according to Gartner, Inc. Demand remained weak as consumers became more concerned about getting value for money.

“For the majority of smartphone users, desire has shifted away from owning the least expensive smartphone. Today’s smartphone user is opting for midtier smartphones over premium-tier ones because they offer better value for money,” said Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner. “In addition, while waiting for 5G network coverage to increase to more countries, smartphone users are delaying their purchase decisions until 2020.”

This shift has led brands such as Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo to strengthen their entry-level and midtier portfolios. This strategy helped Huawei, Samsung and OPPO grow in the third quarter of 2019. By contrast, Apple recorded another double-digit decline in sales, year over year


Gartner puts the total at 387.5m: top five are Samsung (79m), Huawei (65.8m), Apple (40.8m), Xiaomi (32.3m), OPPO (30.8m). “Others” are just over a third of the market, down from 40% a year ago: it’s the smaller players who are getting squeezed, just as in the PC market. Earlier this month IDC said the top five were the same, in the same order, and “Others” below 30%, but that the world market grew by 0.8% year-on-year to 358.3m.

That’s quite a difference in the total, but in growth terms it’s a wash – the market’s flat. 8 more phones per thousand, or 4 fewer phones per thousand, it’s not a noticeable difference.
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Toshiba says its device tests for 13 cancer types with 99% accuracy from a single drop of blood • The Japan Times


Toshiba Corp. has developed technology to detect 13 types of cancer from a single drop of blood with 99% accuracy, the company announced Monday.

Toshiba developed the diagnosis method together with the National Cancer Center Research Institute and Tokyo Medical University, and hopes to commercialize it in “several years” after starting a trial next year.

The method could be used to treat cancer in its early stage, it said.

The method is designed to examine the types and concentration of microRNA molecules secreted in blood from cancer cells. Toray Industries Inc. and other companies have also developed technologies to diagnose cancer using microRNA molecules from a blood sample.

“Compared to other companies’ methods, we have an edge in the degree of accuracy in cancer detection, the time required for detection and the cost,” Koji Hashimoto, chief research scientist at Toshiba’s Frontier Research Laboratory, told a press briefing.

The test will be used to detect gastric, esophageal, lung, liver, biliary tract, pancreatic, bowel, ovarian, prostate, bladder and breast cancers as well as sarcoma and glioma.


“Hello, Toshiba headquarters, how may I direct your call? Oh. Elizabeth Holmes? Again? Sorry, but as we said, you can’t borrow our machine and write ‘THERANOS’ on the side.”
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When Instagram killed the tabloid star • The New York Times

Amanda Hess:


Celebrity culture, in the first decade of this century, took the form of a kind of misogynistic death cult. Somewhere in Hollywood, Lindsay Lohan was falling out of an SUV. Tara Reid was falling out of a club nearby. It was open season on drunk girls. Flashbulbs alighted on their smeared mascara and slackened jaws. “Upskirt” photographs, in which a paparazzo literally stooped so low that he could snap under a woman’s skirt as she exited a car, were a genre unto themselves.

The strip of sidewalk between a chauffeured limousine and an unhooked velvet rope formed the line of scrimmage between the celebrities and the tabloid press. It was all motivated by an antagonistic but symbiotic relationship among the famous people, the paparazzi and the fans. We watched it all with a compulsive loathing.

Few could predict that, just a few years later, this era of Hollywood would inspire nostalgia. But it has. “Pop Culture Died in 2009,” curated by a young man who was in grade school when Britney Spears commandeered the clippers at a hair salon and shaved her head, resurrects the era’s Us Weekly spreads and pap shots on Tumblr, retelling old tabloid tales about Mischa Barton and Paris Hilton and the “Leave Britney Alone” guy. What happened in 2010? Instagram happened.

In October of that year, that free photo-sharing app with a hipster sheen hit the iPhone. Several months later, Justin Bieber — the biggest star to take to the platform — posted a moody shot of Los Angeles traffic, and suddenly, we weren’t snapping hungrily at the window of a famous person’s car anymore. We were in the passenger seat. As more celebrities signed up, we gained access to their kitchens and bedrooms and closets and bathrooms. Celebrity culture moved inside. It was domesticated. The paparazzi were left stranded on the pavement. Now Us Weekly just prints photographs that celebrities have uploaded to Instagram.


Ponder this for a moment: what if Princess Di(ana) had lived in the Instagram era? Would she have been able to prevent the paparazzi hounding her, by posting her own pictures for worldwide consumption, short-circuiting their endless efforts to picture her at every moment? (For younger readers: Princess Di, as she was known, was an early version of Kate Middleton, only less happy.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: The unique links should now actually link. Thanks Lila H for pointing out they didn’t (the result of code loss a little while back.)

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1199: Twitter pauses account cull, bad bags for life, TikTok helping repression, Toshiba’s cancer blood drop test, and more

  1. I haven’t noticed anything from anyone else, but Google has a sensible setup for dead people: after my account has been inactive for set period (I chose 3 months), some people (my siblings) get access to some of my stuff (everything).
    Ghoulish, but sensible. Ex-i-Bro is supposed to have my logins and stuff, but this is a nice failsafe, and a lot easier to handle for regular people. Mostly, it’s about Google Photo. I’m sure he’ll grab the Syno though – as he should.

  2. And now in the Google-not-being-sensible column: They’re killing CloudPrint. Strangely, this hasn’t been harped on by the Apple kommentariat, though it’s way more impactful than just about everything Google has ever cancelled. CloudPrint is being used in millions of homes and in many 10k+ Entreprise deployments, it’s not some marginal feature for a corner of academia. It was one of my must-have features for printers: remarkably easy to set up, reliable, frictionless… Now we’re back to proprietary apps+drivers+convoluted network configs on each client. And remote printing will be… harder ? impossible ? I’m so used to printing stuff on my mom’s printer 200 km away…

    It was officially beta but you’d be hard-pressed to notice the warning, all printer OEMs supported it and advertised loudly on the box. Of course there’s no direct revenue nor eyeballs attached to that functionality… just heaps of user goodwill, now gone. I’m hoping someone else will take it over, but my best guess is that Google cancelled it because OEMs were pushing to get rid of it and force users to download their app… if Google couldn’t force it down OEMs’ throats, I don’t think anyone else can. MS might jump in to get some goodwill back ?

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